Help me learn to see
January 22, 2014 7:52 PM   Subscribe

Are there any good books on how to best visually appreciate art? More inside...

I am referring to the practice of physically looking at art, not art theory or history. Two insights that have transformed the way I physically look at pictures are below. What other insights am I unaware of?

1. If you look at a photograph, or realistic painting, your eyes will physically refocus as they look at parts of the picture that depict objects closer or further away. This is true despite the fact that a photograph is, in fact, flat. These points define the picture's mental space, which may or may not conform with reality.

2. In any portrait of a person in a complex psychological state, different parts of the subject's face will communicate different emotions. You can most easily see this by covering up one side of a portrait and then looking at the other side. Each side will clearly communicate a different emotion, and is usually highly asymmetrical.
posted by xammerboy to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
How to Use Your Eyes is a fun one.
posted by planetesimal at 8:05 PM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm not sure if you're just interested in Fine Art, but Ackerman's The Architecture of Michelangelo gave me a brand-new eye for architecture.
posted by jaguar at 9:26 PM on January 22, 2014

Marshall McLuhan's The Medium is the Massage is about visual literacy and is presented in a totally unusual and visual way.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:49 PM on January 22, 2014

Gombrich's Art and Illusion is the classic popular text for what you're describing, though it can be pretty heady at times.

John Berger's Ways of Seeing is also classic and accessible.

Finally, see if you can rent Art21 from your library or Netflix. It's a DVD and only the artists get to speak about their work. Totally fascinating.
posted by Jason and Laszlo at 9:55 PM on January 22, 2014 [3 favorites]

Joseph campbell has a series called "Transformation of Myths through time" which exposes the primal energies present in all artwork throughout all time, the meanings of the symbols, and the metaphors in the patterns... it's really quite mind blowing :)
posted by krisb1701d at 2:44 AM on January 23, 2014

I came in to recommend Ways of Seeing. I briefly lived with some fine art students, and we had about 5 copies of it in the house - it's that canonical.
posted by Ted Maul at 2:54 AM on January 23, 2014

nthing Ways of Seeing -- essential reading.
posted by Drexen at 4:30 AM on January 23, 2014

At the museum where I work, we use the great, accessible and short-ish book The Intelligent Eye: Learning to Think by Looking at Art to train our educators.

Margaret Livingstone is a neurobiologist who studies how art creates visual effects in the brain. Her book Vision and Art: The Biology of Seeing is fascinating and a little science-y.
posted by Miko at 5:29 AM on January 23, 2014 [3 favorites]

Is you are interested in Ways of Seeing, remember that the book is a companion to a television series you can see on YouTube.
posted by pracowity at 4:23 AM on January 24, 2014

I'm late to the party, but I recommend a great book called The Awakened Eye by Ross Parmenter.
posted by wittgenstein at 6:32 PM on January 25, 2014

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